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Buddha Boy (Bccb Blue Ribbon Fiction Books (Awards)) Hardcover – March 4, 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 7-10-Justin-an "average" kid-serves as the interface between readers (and to some extent his schoolmates) and Michael Martin, aka Buddha Boy, whose Buddhist teacher named him Jinsen, "fountain of God." Justin mostly wants to pass through high school unnoticed (beneath the notice of the school's "royalty"), doing his work and enjoying his friends. He is fortunate to have supportive, albeit divorced, parents-another facet of the novel that sets it apart in a field full of useless adults. But Justin is stirred out of his camouflage by the animosity that the new kid incites, quite unintentionally, simply by being different. Both irritated and intrigued by Jinsen's apparent imperturbability to his tormentors, Justin is also astonished by Jinsen's artistic abilities. Koja flawlessly walks a tightrope in her presentation of Jinsen-devout without being sanctimonious, insufferable, or simply unbelievable-and solidly nails the small-minded, fearful, and even paranoid mind-set that dominates the high school milieu. Like Chris Crutcher and Chris Lynch, the author is deeply concerned with the psychological motivations for behavior and the belief that explicable causes generally underlie what may seem to be inexplicable actions. At the heart of her story is a deeply religious character who is neither naive nor clownish, neither self-righteous nor pitiful. Buddha Boy has a whole lot of action compressed into a short time span, but Koja admirably refuses to yield to melodramatic writing or black-and-white solutions. Quickly paced, inviting, and eye-opening, this is a marvelous addition to YA literature.
Coop Renner, Blackshear Elementary School, Austin, TX
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Gr. 6-10. No one in the rich, suburban high school likes the weird new kid who looks like a Buddhist monk and begs at lunch. But Justin is drawn to the stranger and defends him against vicious school bullies. Koja's short novel is openly preachy, and the packed plot is absurdly contrived: the saintly outsider turns out to be an amazingly gifted artist who was once a delinquent as violent as the school bullies--until his parents died and he went catatonic and a Buddhist art teacher showed him how to find truth and beauty in art and religion . . . It's the simple writing, along with Justin's informal first-person narrative, that will draw readers to the crucial ethical issues, especially "the social-status in-out thing" among the kids, and the way school authorities accept it. Then there's the elemental question of how hard it is to do the right thing, and to keep on doing it. "We're all gods inside, right? Karma, right?" Teens will find much to talk about here. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 - 17 years
  • Lexile Measure: 1090L (What's this?)
  • Series: Bccb Blue Ribbon Fiction Books (Awards)
  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR); 1st edition (March 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374309981
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374309985
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,185,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

A Kid's Review on January 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Buddha Boy review

Buddha Boy by Kathe Koja is a realistic fiction story of a religious young boy named Jinsen, who is new at Rucher High School. The kids make fun of him for his dragon t-shirts and peaceful ways. Especially McManus, a popular hot-shot that likes to put others down. McManus does things like shoving Jinsen into lockers and jamming Jinsens locker. Justin, another student at Rucher High became friends with Jinsen despite the names other people were calling him. Justin's father is an artist and does not visit Justin very often. Jinsen just happens to be the best artist in the school. This draws Justin to Jinsen. Can Jinsen overcome what other people think and sketch his way to the top? You will have to find out yourself.

I would have to give this book a 4.5 out of 5 star rating. I enjoyed this book so much because of the simple writing style that was easy to follow yet effective to tell the story. This author really puts you in the shoes of Justin who is becoming friends with Jinsen. One thing that I didn't like about this book is the fact that it was a mere 117 pages which really turned me off when I saw this book. I really wish I could have kept on reading this book. I believe that you will love the story of Justin and Jinsen, 2 boys trying to make their way at Rucher High School.
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Format: Hardcover
Kathe Koja, Buddha Boy (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2003)
I got to the point about eight years ago where I finally gave in to the temptation to predict an author. After the back-to-back triumphs that were Skin and Strange Angels, I figured that from here on out, anything Kathe Koja would release would be brilliant, and every book she released would find its way onto my top ten for whatever year in which I read it.
Then she started writing kidlit. I approached Straydog with some trepidation, but it not only made last year's best-of list, it topped it. So I had no such qualms hunting down her second piece of young adult fiction, Buddha Boy. Needless to say, I wasn't surprised, at least not by the quality.
Justin is an Everyman in an Everyman's high school; if you went to high school in America, you'll probably recognize all the archetypes to be found here. The school gets a new student, Jinsen. To call Jinsen, an aspiring Zen monk, different would be the understatement of the year. And we all know what happens to different kids in high school.
Justin, however, assigned to a class project with Jinsen, discovers that Jinsen is one of the finest artists Justin has ever come across, and thus grudgingly befriends the kid the others at school call Buddha Boy. From all this springs this small, delicate tale.
Koja's writing is, as usual, short and to the point. Even the slowest reader will probably get through Buddha Boy in no more than a couple of days. Most people will be able to find someone here to identify with (though many won't like what they see in the book's looking-glass), and the story is compelling enough to draw the reader through, perhaps in a single gulp. Nothing surprising there.
What is surprising, perhaps, is the language she chooses.
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Format: Hardcover
Great book--similar to Stargirl by Spinnelli in that it portrays an individualistic teen who flaunts the established social behaviors. Would be great for discussion!
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Format: Hardcover
"That's right: You can't play tug of war with someone who refuses to hold the other end of the rope."
That's how a friend of mine characterized what I was excitedly telling her about BUDDHA BOY, the superb new book by Kathe Koja. It was a foggy early morning on campus--I'd just come from voting--and I was explaining how, in contrast to the many stories where the bullies/jocks/student "leaders" had the satisfaction of seeing their victims beaten down and acting victimized, here you had a new, "strange" kid (Jinsen) who won't give them that satisfaction. There's a point in the story where one of the school's predators (part of the group who'd jumped Jinsen/"Buddha Boy" the day before) corners the story's narrator, Justin, and complains:
" ' Why do you hang out with him? Why do you stick up for him? The kid's a freak, he doesn't even belong here.' I opened my mouth, but he wasn't done; in a weird way it was like he wasn't even talking to me, but to Jinsen somehow through me, like I was a translator, a gateway. 'He wears freak clothes, he acts like a freak, he sure talks like a freak--'
" ' Well, ignore him,' my voice a little better, a little stronger, but not much. 'Just, just pretend he's not--'
" ' Ignore him! How can you ignore him? You know what he said to me yesterday? when he, when we were-- He said, "If it makes you happy." That's what he said. "Go on, if it makes you happy." What the hell is that supposed to mean?' Yelling now, but again not at me: it was as if he were arguing with Jinsen, arguing with himself, his face getting redder and redder and 'You tell him,' poking me in the chest, big fat hot-dog finger, 'tell him to stay the hell away from me. Just tell him that.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
I am always on the lookout for children's and Young Adult books that introduce Buddhism and related spiritual themes in an accessible way, so that is how I happened upon this one (and I'm glad I did.) This slim novel (117 pages) centers around high schooler Justin and his initially reluctant friendship with 'new kid' Jinsen, who begs at lunch for food, wears old clothes, smiles all the time no matter what, and is widely derided as a 'freak' amongst the high school population. Jinsen's incredible artistic talents intrigue Justin however, and as he gradually gets to know him better, he comes to appreciate Jinsen's profound spiritual values. The plot centers around others' treatment of Jinsen, and Justin's struggles to decide how or if he should try and help.

It's very readable, and the high school environment and emotional struggles of the characters felt real to me. Although it touches on spiritual themes, the author does so with a light touch - the book isn't pedantic or preachy. Most of the themes come up in brief bits of conversations between Justin and Jinsen, or in the narrative added by Justin, who is telling the story in first person. On the plus side, this keeps the spiritual undertones from overwhelming the story or characters, but it also limits the amount of information we get regarding Buddhism. As someone who has studied Buddhism extensively, some of the statements regarding the Four Noble Truths, karma, and 'gods' (a word some Buddhist are very uncomfortable with) didn't resonate exactly right for me. I wasn't wild about Jinsen begging for his lunch either, as it seemed to play into certain stereotypes regarding Buddhism. But there are many branches of Buddhism, and so many interpretations, and as long as this book isn't read as a treatise on Buddhism, I think it is good. Certainly anything that gets tweens and teenagers thinking about tolerance and spirituality is a good thing in my view!
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